Voters in Kentucky go to the polls today to either put the final nail in the Matt Bevin political coffin or deliver the world’s biggest unpleasant surprise to incumbent Mitch McConnell in the US Senate primary. Despite some Tea Party grassroots support and a boatload of ill will from the grassroots groups directed at the Senate Minority Leader, Bevin’s candidacy never took off in Kentucky. His own shortcomings as a candidate, especially in his flip-flopping on TARP and his odd participation in a cockfighting-rights rally, undermined the Tea Party vs Establishment narrative long ago.
But don’t let that stop media outlets from pursuing that narrative regardless:
If Mitch McConnell wins the Kentucky Republican primary Tuesday – polls suggest he leads – some will wonder if the tea party is losing influence. What it’s really lost is the element of surprise.
In 2010 and 2012, a lot of Republican incumbents and favorites didn’t take on their tea party challenges early and they paid for it, but McConnell took no such chances this spring. He raised millions, mounted an aggressive campaign, and as a result goes into Tuesday night favored against tea party-backed businessman Matt Bevin.
When McConnell, the sitting Senate minority leader, drew this challenge, the political world circled May 20 on the calendar as a big test, not just for incumbent Republicans but as a measure of the animosity toward Congress that Americans have voiced this year. And in that sense, McConnell is hardly done fighting to keep his job even if he does manage to win Tuesday night.
The same anti-Washington sentiment that gave rise to this primary will also pervade the general election, and presumptive Democratic nominee, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, is hoping to use it against McConnell, too, come November. Polls have that potential matchup mostly neck and neck, even in this very red state and even in what figures to be a Republican-leaning year.
The discussion in the video is better than the analysis in the article itself. The Tea Party narrative really died when Rand Paul endorsed McConnell, which drew sharp criticism from Paul’s usual base of support at the time. Time has proven the wisdom of Paul’s decision, however, as Bevin has stumbled all along the path to the primary. McConnell has a lead in the Real Clear Politics polling average of 22 points now, and Bevin might not even break 40%.
What’s next? McConnell faces off against Alison Lundergan Grimes, and the RCP average looks much less favorable for the incumbent. It’s a virtual dead heat in the last four polls listed, but that takes place in the context of a primary fight for the incumbent and a walkover for the challenger. When the dust settles, McConnell will be able to focus more clearly on Grimes, and the GOP base has nearly six months to soothe its internecine tensions and get behind McConnell to keep Grimes from pulling off a surprise win.
Grimes offered some fodder to McConnell this week with her full support of late-term abortions:
Left unmentioned: abortion, the main wedge that Democrats nationwide have used to divide GOP opponents from the swingiest parts of the electorate. In a twist, it is McConnell broaching the topic, hoping to create a fissure between the national pro-abortion-rights supporters who are helping bankroll Grimes’s campaign and the conservative voters she needs to carry this Southern state. He held a press conference in Washington earlier this week pushing to ban abortions after 20 weeks.
“We should all agree that unborn children should be protected at least from the point that they’re capable of feeling pain,” McConnell pointedly said of the legislation.
Grimes supports abortion rights. “I come from a family of five women,” she says in the interview. “I would never pretend to tell one of my sisters what to do with their body and I don’t want the federal government doing that either.… When it comes to choice, I believe, should a woman have to make that decision, it’s between herself, her doctor, and her God.”
As for McConnell’s 20-week abortion ban, she says, “I think you always put the health, life, and safety of the mother first, should that decision have to be made. I’m not for moving backwards the principles the Supreme Court has set forward.”
John McCormack pointed out yesterday that this puts Grimes on the fringe in Kentucky:
By coming out against the 20-week aboriton limit, Grimes is at odds with at least two-thirds of Kentucky voters. According to a Marist poll released last week, “67% of Kentucky residents think abortion should be illegal. This includes 21% who say it should be illegal without exceptions and 46% who say it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, and to save the mother’s life. 28%, however, report abortion should be legal. Included here are 18% who say abortion should always be legal and 10% who think it should be legal most of the time.”
Grimes’s opposition to the 20-week abortion limit on the grounds that it doesn’t put the “health, life, and safety of the mother first” doesn’t make sense. The text of the bill explicitly contains an exceptionfor when “in reasonable medical judgment, the abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, but not including psychological or emotional conditions.” (Medical experts have testified before Congress that if a serious medical issue should arise late in pregnancy, delivering a child alive is actually much safer than aborting her: A live delivery of the baby can be performed in an hour, but a late-term abortion can take three days.)
Despite what some Democratic politicians have said, babies are viable–that is, they can survive long-term if born–20 weeks after conception. As Dr. Colleen Malloy of Northwestern University has noted, a Journal of the American Medical Association study found that “survival to one year of life of live born infants at 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 weeks postfertilization age was 10%, 53%, 67%, 82%, and 85%, respectively.”
Kentucky voters will get to hear plenty on this, as well as on the economy and on ObamaCare, too. This will be a key race to watch in the midterms, but don’t be too surprised if it shifts over the summer in McConnell’s favor.